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Copyright © 1999-2017 by Carl Bennett
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True Heart
Susie

(1919)

 

From its intertitles that actually call the film’s main characters “idiots” to the smug direction of D.W. Griffith that hides behind the guise of sympathetic observation, condescension is the word to describe the social attitude of True Heart Susie (1919). Less politically correct and more socially superior, masterful performances from both Lillian Gish and Robert Harron raise and carry this slightly cynical film farther than its story or direction could otherwise. Griffith intends to manipulate the audience, through coy direction of the actors and a melodramatic storyline, into a false nostalgia for a noble lifestyle that is posited as rapidly disappearing in the last waves of the Industrial Revolution. How else to explain characterizations that cause the viewer to question whether we are truly being presented with protagonists with room-temperature IQs?

Intending to celebrate the simplicity of country living, with its characterizations of moral and down-to-earth country folk, the film yet fails to convince us that the urbanites of the story are so narcissistic and cynical as the drama requires. As callously as the city-dwellers are portrayed, the town folk here are just as capable of manipulation as anyone else, and even ‘true heart’ Susie lies more than once to her beloved William. Unintentionally, also, the film shows modern eyes the simple beauty of early 20th-century life regardless of its urban or rural location. The beautiful tree-lined neighborhood streets of Brightville seem a great, inviting cultural paradigm-shift away from the reality of today’s urban life. Griffith’s observation of the yawning cultural chasm between city and country seems less pronounced than intended when viewed today.

Our introduction to Susie (Gish) and William (Harron) begins in a one-room schoolhouse, where their budding romance begins, unrecognized by the naive boy. Shyly, William cannot quite bring himself to follow impulses to kiss Susie. Soon he is off to college, despite the poverty of his family, through the sacrifices of Susie disguised as the benefaction of a four-flushing city man who breezed through town, greasing William’s ego in the process.

After four years of hard work and a struggle for the respect of his peers, William returns home, sporting a moustache, to replace the town’s departing minister. Susie’s dreams of marriage to William now occupy her every thought. Yet Bettina (Clarine Seymour), the painted woman of the city, is on the prowl for a sucker to marry so that she won’t have to work anymore. The simple William is an easy snag for her, and Susie helplessly watches as the golddigger (what is she expecting to gain from a small-town clergy?) steals away her dreams. With a question of marriage posed, we see Bettina’s sarcastic contempt for rube William and, before even giving him an answer, she is seen by Susie kissing her playmate Sporty (Raymond Cannon), a dandy from the city. Making a bold move, Susie dresses up in what she perceives as a sophisticated dress and pursues William, only to find Bettina is his arms — they are engaged. Crumpled, Susie leaves without confronting them, only to be pulled into their painful engagement celebration by her aunt.

Soon the wedding date has arrived, and Bettina is hard-pressed to contain her uncertain panic but presses forward. Susie is forced to be an observer of and not a participant in her dream wedding. After the honeymoon departure, Susie collapses in despair. William’s disillusionment is not long in coming however. Bettina’s city-cultured shrewishness and frustration at being trapped in a deplorable situation soon comes out. At the first opportunity, here come Bettina’s slumming, narcissistic city friends. Meanwhile, William finds Susie mulling over the question of whether to destroy his precious letters sent to her from college and, in a moment between them, he has a vision of what might have been. He returns home and thinks he witnesses a kiss between Bettina and Sporty. A quick departure of friends and a hearty denial soon convinces William that he was wrong.

Later, Bettina arranges to sleep in another room only to sneak out of the house for a party night with her friends, which shamelessly includes dancing and cigarette smoking! After an open-car return in a drenching rainstorm and the discovery that she has lost her house key, Bettina appeals to Susie to take her in and to lie to William for her the next morning. Indignant Susie turns to helpless compassion, with an undercurrent of anger and sadness at the situation. Susie does lie to William, then watches the deceitful game played out as he is again duped by Bettina.

The nocturnal soiree has cost Bettina her health and she soon dies. William vows never to love another and Susie perseveres, until her aunt reveals the story of his college tuition and a city friend of Bettina’s (Carol Dempster) confesses the truth to William. Freed from his vow, William approaches Susie with his love. And they finally kiss.

Despite the questionable characterizations of the film, how can you not fall in love with Lillian Gish? Her angelic expressions of thought and emotion achieve the audience manipulation that Griffith intended. Less than for Griffith’s involvement, this film is to be cherished for Gish’s masterful performance.

As a side note, those who have seen photos in a Gish biography know, the photograph of Susie and her mother is actually a photo of infant Lillian and her real-life mother. — Carl Bennett
coverFlicker Alley
2015 DVD edition

True Heart Susie (1919), color-tinted black & white and black & white, 86 minutes, not rated,
with Hoodoo Ann (1916), black & white, 64 minutes, not rated.

Flicker Alley, FA-MD3-003, unknown UPC number.
One single-sided, dual-layered, Region 0 NTSC DVD-R disc, 1.33:1 aspect ratio image in full-frame 4:3 (720 x 480 pixels) interlaced scan MPEG-2 format, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital AC-3 2.0 stereo sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops; standard DVD keepcase, $19.95.
Release date: 18 March 2015.
Country of origin: USA
This edition has been prepared from a very-good to excellent 35mm source print. James White of the British Film Institute supervised the digital mastering from their 35mm duplicate negative, and digitally recreated the original color-tinting of the BFI’s print. Hoodoo Ann is digitally mastered from a 35mm fine-grain master positive made from the camera negative. Produced by David Shepard, this edition replaces the now out-of-print 2007 edition noted directly below.

The film is presented with a pleasant small-orchestra music score compiled from contemporary theatrical sheet music by Rodney Sauer and performed by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra.

 
This Region 0 NTSC DVD-R edition is available directly from . . .
coverImage Entertainment
2007 DVD edition

True Heart Susie (1919), color-tinted black & white and black & white, 86 minutes, not rated,
with Hoodoo Ann (1916), black & white, 64 minutes, not rated.

Film Preservation Associates, distributed by Image Entertainment,
ID3846DSDVD, UPC 0-14381-38462-8.
One single-sided, dual-layered, Region 0 NTSC DVD disc, 1.33:1 aspect ratio image in full-frame 4:3 (720 x 480 pixels) interlaced scan MPEG-2 format, 8 Mbps average video bit rate, 224 kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital AC-3 2.0 stereo sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 16 chapter stops; standard DVD keepcase, $24.99.
Release date: 28 August 2007.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 8 / audio: 9 / additional content: 9 / overall: 8.
frame

This edition of True Heart Susie has been mastered from a 35mm fine-grain acetate duplicate negative, prepared from the sole-surviving 35mm nitrate print known, in the collection of the National Film Archive of the British Film Institute. James White of BFI Films supervised the preparation of the full-frame video transfer, which has been digitally stablized and cleaned, and color-tinted to replicate the tints in BFI’s original nitrate print.

The video transfer itself is excellent, even on upscaling HD equipment, but the source print ranges from very-good to excellent, with some shots appearing to have been taken from a different print altogether, being softer in image detail and with a differing range of greytones. The source print shows signs of exposure fluctuations, processing flaws in some of the intertitles, with some residual speckling, scratches, light print wear and beginning decomposition. A number of sudden jumps in the narrative indicate missing footage lost to several print splices. Excepting the occasional distracting print flaws, the presentation is a very-good viewing experience here — outstanding when compared to the subpar-quality 16mm reduction prints generally available to collectors.

The presentation is buoyed by a pleasant small-orchestra music score compiled from contemporary theatrical sheet music by Rodney Sauer and performed by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, one of the best practioners of silent film accompaniment.

Now that this film has been released in this quality edition it can take its place, in the minds of enthusiasts, among the other fine Griffith productions of the late 1910s and early 1920s. Well worth adding to one’s collection, we highly recommend this disc for its quality, and for the accompanying film Hoodoo Ann (1916) that was produced by Griffith. See, also, our review of that film.

This edition is now out-of-print and replaced by the Flicker Alley edition noted above.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
United Kingdom: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.co.uk. Your purchase supports Silent Era.
coverGrapevine Video
2005 DVD edition

True Heart Susie (1919), black & white, 70 minutes, not rated.

Grapevine Video, no catalog number, UPC 8-42614-10121-2.
One single-sided, single-layered, Region 0 NTSC DVD-R disc, 1.33:1 aspect ratio image in full-frame 4:3 (720 x 480 pixels) interlaced scan MPEG-2 format, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, PCM 2.0 mono? sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops; standard DVD keepcase, $18.95 (reduced to $14.95).
Release date: 2005.
Country of origin: USA
We do not know whether this edition has been remastered, but it has likely been transferred from a 16mm reduction print.

The presentation likely features a soundtrack compiled from preexisting orchestral recordings.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD-R edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase helps support the Silent Era website.
 
This Region 0 NTSC DVD-R edition is also available directly from GRAPEVINE VIDEO.
coverClassic Video Streams
2009 DVD edition

The Actors: Rare Films of Lillian Gish, Volume 2 (1916-1919),
black & white, 141 minutes total, not rated,
including True Heart Susie (1919), black & white, ? minutes, not rated.

Classic Video Streams, no catalog number, unknown UPC number.
One single-sided, single-layered, Region 0 NTSC DVD-R disc, 1.33:1 aspect ratio image in full-frame 4:3 (720 x 480 pixels) interlaced scan MPEG-2 format, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 mono? sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops; slimline DVD keepcase, $16.99.
Release date: 28 December 2009.
Country of origin: USA
This edition has likely been transferred from a 16mm reduction print.

The presentation likely features a soundtrack compiled from preexisting recordings.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD-R edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
Other silent era D.W. GRIFFITH films available on home video.

Other silent era LILLIAN GISH films available on home video.

Lillian Gish filmography in The Progressive Silent Film List
 
 
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